Why do Police Riot Squads Target Protesters Instead of White Supremacists?

Police riot squads were an inescapable presence at the recent demonstration against white supremacists at a “free speech” rally in Boston, just as they had been a week earlier in Charlottesville. Soon after the event was cut short and a handful of white supremacists were safely escorted by police to waiting vans, buses approached Boston Common from multiple locations and disgorged a stream of armor-clad, helmeted, baton wielding police officers, dispatched to quell the nonviolent assembly.

This display of police aggression escalated tensions, provoked physical confrontations and netted over 30 arrests. In the aftermath of the rally, protesters were left to wonder: Why had the Boston Police Department protected white supremacists but policed anti-racist demonstrators?

The answer does not necessarily lie in the personal politics of police officers themselves, but rather in the deep historical forces that continue to structure the mission and posture of contemporary police riot squads. That history reveals not only the baked-in hostility of big-city police departments to demonstrations for racial equality, but the ways in which these squads threaten to ignite — rather than prevent — urban violence.

Perhaps surprisingly, today’s riot squads do not date to the major uprisings of the late 1960s, when civil rights and antiwar demonstrations were conflated with criminality and violence. Rather, these paramilitary-style units were created to police the growing black population in cities in the early 1960s at the behest of white residents. As the size and functions of riot squads multiplied across the decades, these elite, specialized police squads could not — and still cannot — be untangled from their original purpose: to impose urban order through the harassment and containment of black people.

Boston’s Tactical Patrol Force (TPF) — the forerunner to the Special Operations unit deployed at Saturday’s demonstration — was first formed in 1962, one of the many tactical squads that proliferated in big-city police departments in the early 1960s. These units were emblematic of the police response to the expanding proportion of urban black residents in the decades after World War II.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 3179 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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  • ConorDunphy2

    In New York, the department’s head of investigations is of the blanched complexion, as goes for the Commissioner of Police, too. It’s structural racism, monday thru friday, including weekends.

  • Neville Sukul

    Sad, Sad, sad, I think before one becomes a cop, brain surgery is performed to remove the part of the brain that controls love and empathy. Now, they are machine known as robots. They enjoy brutality and killing. I wonder how those heartless beasts feel if any of their families is treated the same way? They will never stop their brutality and the killing of another human. I must be fair, there are times when the men in black have no choice than to be brutal or even kill. It is a known fact that they feel they are above the law. – they have the support of their superiors to be this way – I sincerely hope that soon the people will get together and put a stopping to this insanity. Our Canadian cops are good and kind. Of course, there is always the exception – rotten eggs in between. This kind of cruelty and hatred (in America) will never stop because the government is doing shit-all about it.

  • LawrenceNeal

    Why do Police Riot Squads Target Protesters Instead of White Supremacists? Um… Because the SA are White Supremacists?